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6 Articles Every Trial Lawyer Should Read

Last week I shared A2L's top 10 articles of the year based on the visits of our 10,000+ subscribers. In those articles, there are many valuable best practices, useful war stories, and litigation consultant expert tips for trial lawyers and the professionals who support trial lawyers — particularly if you are interested in storytelling, jury consultants, litigation graphics, or trial technology/using hot-seaters. However, for as valuable as I know these articles are, I think other articles were published over the last year or two that may have been overlooked for one reason or another — and they should not have been. Sometimes the title doesn’t capture the attention of our audience. Sometimes the timing of the release of a particular article is terrible. Sometimes the news of the day simply competes with our publication, The Litigation Consulting Report. So in that light, here are six articles that I think are really exceptional and useful for every trial lawyer. I believe that when read together, they will improve the performance of both veteran and new trial lawyers alike.  Here are six recent articles that every trial lawyer should read: Develop Your Trial Story – Sooner, Not Later: This article by veteran trial lawyer and senior litigation consultant, Alan Rudlin, explains clearly when one should develop their trial narrative. Obviously, the answer is suggested by the title, but hearing the rationale from such an experienced expert will help any trial lawyer prepare for trial more effectively. Great Trial Lawyers Behave Differently: Simply put, if the other 99% of trial lawyers really knew how the top 1% of trial lawyers prepare for trial, I believe the 99% would improve their trial prep. This article gets to the heart of the stark difference in trial preparation strategies. Netanyahu Persuades and Presents Better Than Most Trial Lawyers: While Netanyahu's fall from grace is noted, it takes nothing away from the fact that the PowerPoint presentation shown here was incredibly well executed. Every trial lawyer could learn something from it.

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I’ve been in the litigation graphics consulting business for 30 years. In that time, I’ve witnessed technology transitions from printed trial boards to laser disks to PowerPoint and much more. However, the most important transition I’ve seen involves a shift in belief. Top-tier trial lawyers who once viewed litigation graphics as optional now understand they are essential. Note that I say “understand” rather than “belief.” That’s because the need for high-quality and well-designed litigation graphics is rooted in science, not in a belief system. Study after study in the last 50 years authoritatively prove that litigation graphics are a requirement -- not a luxury -- for effective persuasion. Even after 30 years and thousands of cases, I genuinely love trying to figure out how to make a complex or boring case interesting and understandable while using the latest in persuasion science to convince the factfinder(s) that our position is correct. I’m passionate about this work, and I enjoy writing about it. Below are the fifteen articles that I think are a must-read for every trial lawyer (and the trial team members who support them) who is serious about persuading judges and juries. I’ve added a few bonus webinars and books after the list. Read these and the articles linked to from these articles, and you’ll be a near-expert in litigation graphics theory and visual persuasion. 12 Reasons Litigation Graphics are More Complicated Than You Think 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations

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For those of us in the persuasion business, the biggest stage in the world is currently on Capitol Hill. Last week, millions watched the start of this country’s fourth impeachment effort with interest and concern. Putting aside politics and the question of who is right and who is wrong, I'm professionally interested in how well the various involved parties are performing rhetorically, visually, and technically -- especially as it affects persuasion. In day one, I watched a classic mistake occur that offers lessons for trial lawyers and the teams who support them. Here, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a former prosecutor, questioned a witness and attempted to use video support his questioning. However, when he asked for the video to be played, probably in PowerPoint, there was no audio. He quickly adjusted and read the transcript, but it clearly flustered him. The relevant video is less than a minute long and should cue up to 5:09:45 if you hit play. The error is inexcusable in the modern era -- whether on Capitol Hill or in the courtroom. Like all errors of this sort, it was preventable through practice and preparation.  Technical problems happen. Great trial teams and litigation support firms are best judged in these moments. The best teams always practiced enough to anticipate such issues and the response to them. The best teams practice together until first chair and his or her trial technician/hot-seater have formed a bond that allows both to quickly overcome a technical problem.  We have written extensively about how to prepare with your hot-seater for the best results, how to practice and prepare properly for trial, and how to avoid a technical snafu in the first place: Why Rapport Between a Trial Lawyer and a Trial Technician is So Important 10 Timely Tips For Trial Preparation The #1 Reason Top Trial Teams Keep Winning What Does Using a Trial Technician or Hot-Seater Cost? Free E-Book Download: How to Find and Engage the Best Trial Technician Why Trial Tech ≠ Litigation Graphics Will using a trial technician make me look too slick and high-tech? Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well A video of George Zimmerman's lawyers taking a do-it-yourself approach 12 ways to avoid a Superbowl-style tech failure See a video of a trial technician in action 12 Tips to Hire the Right Trial Technician for Your Trial 5 Trial Director Tips for great presentations 6 ways to use video depositions Sample One-Year Trial Prep Calendar for High Stakes Cases In the modern courtroom, trial technicians/hot-seaters are outfitted with redundant technology and have practiced sufficiently with first-chair so that such issues have been anticipated and planned for. A Capitol Hill hearing is a lot like a courtroom -- you only get one try to get it right. Prepare sufficiently or you can damage your credibility and persuasive ability with a simple and avoidable technical problem.

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The Top 10 Litigation Articles of 2018

It's my eighth year writing an end-of-year top-10 style article. That feels pretty great because in that time, we have published more than 600 articles and A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog has been visited one million times. Wow, right?

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A couple of years ago, I was involved in running a genetics conference focused on using genetics as a defense tactic in civil cases, much in the way that DNA evidence is used in criminal cases. I've been working with experts in this field ever since. A few months back, I wrote an article about the clever use by plaintiffs of litigation graphics and genetics in the baby powder (talc) cases (see Some Lessons for Defendants From the Talc Liability Trials), including a $4 billion verdict against a major talc manufacturer. When I write about various types of cases, I often hear from lawyers who handle the types of cases I write about. On my post on the use of genetics evidence in the talc litigation, how many talc defense lawyers do you think I heard from? If you guessed zero, you'd be exactly right. And that's a problem. Not ready to accept that this is a problem for defendants? Then I will ask whether the plaintiffs’ talc bar was similarly unresponsive. As you can probably guess from the way I posed the question, the answer is no. Out of discretion, I won't say exactly who or how many responded, but it was more than zero. Even though there is more to gain for the defense bar from understanding and leveraging these critical tools, it’s the plaintiffs’ lawyers who are most active in the field, striving to improve their approach. From the defense bar — crickets. And that's the problem I'm seeing in the way some of these talc cases are being defended. Defense counsel appear to be playing defense – and completely ignoring the key point that the best defense in litigation is a good offense. These verdicts are having an impact on the companies involved. Last Friday, on December 14, 2018, shares of Johnson & Johnson fell 10 percent and were set to have their largest percentage drop in more than 16 years, after Reuters reported that the company knew for decades that there was some asbestos in its baby powder. Yesterday, December 18, 2018, Johnson and Johnson ran the full page ad seen here in an attempt to manage this growing crisis. For trial lawyers and litigation consulting firms like ours, these asbestos allegations are not new or surprising. It's what plaintiff's have alleged recently and have used to prevail in these cases. The surprising thing in these cases is defense counsel's unnecessarily passive approach. When products are accused of causing harm, defense lawyers often choose one of the following defense strategies: Assert the harm was caused by something else but we don’t know what (the “idiopathic” defense) Assert the harm was caused by something else and we know exactly what. Typically, most defendants have chosen the ‘we don’t know what other thing caused it’ strategy because it avoids giving up the favorable allocation of the burden of proof and assuming the very specific (and often difficult) burden of proving an alternative cause – much as criminal defendants take advantage of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. Not surprisingly, this argument generally falls flat. Recently, the plaintiffs’ bar won a multi-billion-dollar verdict by asserting that there is asbestos in talc and that it causes mesothelioma. This is highly improbable for several logical reasons — but jurors tend to follow emotion first and logic second when deliberating. If asbestos is present in baby powder at all, it would be in such small amounts that one could not reasonably connect mesothelioma to it. If defense counsel asserts (as they have been) that the mesothelioma was caused by some other identified source of asbestos, and not by talc, that leaves jurors without the necessary tools to argue for a defense verdict during deliberations. So, what if defense counsel could instead prove that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by something other than asbestos in baby powder? Something identifiable, measurable, and specific. Using modern genetics, this is now possible. And it is a major sea change.

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We have written many times about what separates good trial teams from world-class trial teams. One article collectively written by many people inside and outside of A2L stands out to me as seminal. It can be found here: 10 Criteria that Define Great Trial Teams If I could have all trial lawyers read only one of our articles, it would be this one. It is one of more than 600 on our site, but it succinctly reflects our leadership's best thinking, and it best summarizes what most of the other 599+ articles say. This simple list of 10 criteria, especially when used as a trial team self-assessment tool, is a thing of magic. In arriving at this deceptively simple list, we captured hundreds of years of trial experience. At first, we identified 50 trial team traits that set the great ones apart from the ordinary (you can see these in this article). When we reduced these 50 traits to 10 key criteria, I think we revealed the secret ingredients of a successful trial team. And in the two years since that was published, I have not seen any reason to revise the criteria. In fact, I’ve seen this list turned assessment tool perform consistently: Trial teams with low scores lose cases; trial teams with high scores win cases. Nowhere on this list do we explicitly use the term groupthink, but our thoughts on the subject are certainly implied through our selection of these 10 traits. First, what is groupthink? Wikipedia says: “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” During trial preparation, members of a trial team can easily put not wanting to be wrong or different ahead of challenging a group decision. We have written about trial teams becoming dysfunctional under severe stress several times before in articles like: 5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Trial Team (and What to Do About It) When a Good Trial Team Goes Bad: The Psychology of Team Anxiety Groupthink is a little different than the nearly complete group breakdowns described in these articles, however. It's a little more subtle and not quite as nightmarish. Still, groupthink can derail a case -- and it often does. Although groupthink can raise its head at any time, we often see it emerge when a trial team is evaluating an opening PowerPoint deck under development, particularly if there are more than five people doing the evaluating. Members of the team will avoid challenging everything, including the specific slides, the order the story is told in, and what not to say during opening. Instead, they will give the appearance of agreement by staying silent. This is groupthink and it does not help win cases. It does the opposite. Here are nine ideas for solving these problems in a trial team. Get the “buts” out of the room: This is an expression we use at A2L. When you are doing creative work, nothing shuts down the creative mind more than someone who jumps in to say why something won't work. These statements usually start with the word “but.” See, Dealing With That ‘Bad Apple’ on Your Trial Team. Establish rules for your trial team meetings: Here are two we often use: silence is acceptance, and no spectators allowed. Ask your litigation graphics team for variations to stimulate thinking. Looking at one litigation graphic may generate some discussion, but looking at two variations guarantees it. Ask for this from your provider. See, 10 Reasons The Litigation Graphics You DO NOT Use Are Important.

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Because (apparently), if we only had 15 more minutes, we could all save 15% or more on car insurance, GEICO has run a series of amusing TV commercials that imagine surreal sources of wasted time, including a Pictionary-playing sloth, Emperor penguins betrayed by faulty GPS, and an interstellar commander who loses his spaceship’s keys in the midst of an alien attack.

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Roughly half of our business involves the creation of PowerPoint presentations for opening statements, closing arguments and expert witnesses. To create these presentations, our litigation consultants, typically seasoned trial lawyers and communications experts, work with our creative staff to turn the trial strategy into presentations that will motivate decisionmakers to make the “right” decisions. In a trial with millions or billions at stake, our final draft for an opening is typically version 30 or higher — and I've seen version 80 in a very large trial. Why so many versions? This is the result of what great trial lawyers do: They work with our team and iterate until perfection is achieved. However, every presentation starts with a first draft, and after three decades in this industry, I can say that a first draft sets the tone for the entire engagement. Handle it well, and trust is formed and there is a nice creative arc free from anxiety. Handle the rollout of the first draft wrong, and trust never kicks in, micromanagement dominates, and the deck becomes a “horse designed by committee.” So what’s the magic to the rollout of a first draft?

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